Friday, March 29, 2013

Hope after the storm

Lindsey Treffry | blot

It’s on bumpers, buttons and stickers. It hangs from buildings and businesses, and is displayed in the University of Idaho Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender office. The rainbow flag is even tattooed on Julia Keleher’s arm.

Keleher, the UI LGBT Office and Programs Coordinator, got the tattoo at 19. 

“Our LGBT community back in the ‘70s … had the idea of pride,” she said. “It’s all about pride. It’s being proud of who you are.”

In 1978, the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade commissioned artist Gilbert Baker to design a new symbol for its marches. Baker taught himself to sew and began crafting the banner. 

“The rainbow is a part of nature and you have to be in the right place to see it,” Baker told a CBS Chicago reporter in June 2012. “It’s beautiful, all of the colors, even the colors you can’t see that really fit us as a people because we are all of the colors ... all the genders, races and ages.”

Paige Davies, the AmeriCorps women’s mentoring, service learning and volunteer coordinator, said Baker probably chose rainbow colors because they are obnoxious.

“It’s in your face. There’s no hiding it,” she said. 

Davies’ interpretation has changed throughout the years.

“To me, now it’s annoying,” Davies said. “Everything has to be rainbow-colored.”

But Davies said the loud colors led her to Inland Oasis, a volunteer organization that serves LGBT communities.

“The logo had rainbow flag colors. Now it says ‘open, accepting, affirming,’ but it used to only have the rainbow,” Davies said. “I knew, then, that that was a place I could go. It was reassuring.”

She said it was just as reassuring to see rainbow flag stickers in UI professors’ offices — part of the UI Safe Zone project.

“They didn’t have to tell me that it was OK to be gay,” she said. “I just knew.”

Katie Noble, UI Women’s Center administrative assistant, said the flag represents a unity of all differences in the community.

“Before coming out, you’re hiding who you are. But with the flag, you’re not gonna hide from that anymore,” Noble said. “The flag is so vibrant and solid.”

And each vibrant color has a meaning.

Red means life. Orange, healing. Yellow, sunlight. Green, nature. Blue, harmony. And purple for spirit. 

The flag once had pink for sex, and turquoise for art or magic, but the colors were later dropped to simplify production.

“The flag is our connection to our history,” Keleher said. “There are symbols (like the flag) and it’s important in understanding where (they) come from.”

Noble said interpretations aren’t always positive.

“For those who are not supportive (of the LGBT community), they’re like ‘Oh, there’s another rainbow flag,’” she said. “There are two sides of it.”

Davies said she might understand why the rainbow was chosen.

“It’s happy, rich and full of life-colors,” she said. “It’s the hope after the storm.”

As seen in February issue of Blot Magazine.

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